Creating a REDD+ mechanism under UNFCCC
At what point do the benefits of experimentation and action along multiple, loosely coordinated policy fronts begin to be outweighed by the costs of overlap, gaps, poor coordination and uncertainty created by competing standards? The international community would do well to consider this question carefully when contemplating the importance of early adoption of a comprehensive REDD+ mechanism under UNFCCC.
According to a new report from the Tropical Forest Group (TFG), "Justification and Recommendations for a New REDD+ Mechanism," there is little time to waste. Described as a "Tropical Forest Group Submission to UNFCCC on the Cancun Agreements", the report has been presented to the UNFCCC by TFG in its capacity as an Accredited Organization, noting that the Cancun Agreements call for submissions of this kind. It describes the context and justification for creating a new UNFCCC REDD+ Mechanism, as well as the key components of such a mechanism. In doing so, the report raises important questions regarding the urgency and potential functions of such a mechanism.
As suggested above, the report emphasises that the development of REDD+ to date has taken place along two main tracks. The first of these is what may be termed "the UNFCCC track"; it consists of the range of developments related to REDD+ that have taken place under the official, UNFCCC umbrella. These include, inter alia, an impressive range of technical guidance developed and agreed under SBSTA, on issues such as ...
drivers of deforestation, forest carbon stocks, reference emission levels, safeguards, forest degradation, measurement, reporting and verification (MRV), the costs of MRV, policies, definitions, uncertainties, data sources and methods, comparison of remote sensing platforms, sampling, changes in carbon stocks, data availability, forest inventories, national and sub-national forest monitoring systems, displacement of emissions, capacity building, cross-cutting issues, land tenure, agriculture, subsidies, transfer payments, results based performance, coordination with other bodies inside and outside the UNFCCC process, and bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
A second set of actions has occurred on a separate, "non-UNFCCC track" and has included various bilateral and multilateral agreements and partnerships that have helped to maintain REDD's strong momentum, particularly during periods where UNFCCC developments have lagged. Unlike action under the UNFCCC track, with has been largely normative in nature, these actions have included a good deal of pilot, real world testing of REDD+ principles and procedures. Notable among activities have been those coordinated under the REDD+ Partnership, the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), UN-REDD's pilot National Programmes, the Governors' Climate and Forest Task force, bilateral agreements (Norway-Indonesia, Norway-Guyana), pilot projects under voluntary market standards, etc. These initiatives are noteworthy for their range and dynamism. Each of them has generated important lessons which can and should be used to strengthen the emerging global REDD+ regime. However, given their somewhat piecemeal emergence, it is not surprising that they do not together constitute a comprehensive or integrated solution to the global challenge of REDD+.
There is no question that actions on both of the above tracks have contributed in their own significant way to the relatively fast pace of development of REDD+. Together, they have brought the international community to the verge of a global agreement on REDD+, one which has the potential both to dramatically change the fate of tropical forests as well as to serve as a model for global cooperation on a range of climate change issues. At the same time, however, the number and variety of actions underway have posed several challenges. One of these has been a challenge of coordination. This has proven particularly important for beneficiary countries with limited institutional and human capacities. The question of apropriate standards, safeguards, methodologies, rules...in these cases and others, what is needed is a process of harmonization which can identify and encourage the adoption of best practices while reducing uncertainty amongst participants in REDD+, including in particular project developers.
The TFG report notes such problems in highlighting the urgent need for rationalization and coordination of the current plethora of multilateral and bilateral initiatives aimed at supporting REDD+. According to the report: "The landscape of REDD+ has reached a point of dangerous disaggregation. Many initiatives on REDD+ inspired by the UNFCCC process now need coordination and oversight through a comprehensive REDD+ Mechanism." It offers specific examples, such as 4/CP.15, which provided guidance for developing countries and called for review of monitoring systems, despite the fact that no corresponding UNFCCC body existed to implement this work. Finally, the report argues that a failure to agree on a REDD+ Mechanism in 2011 "will lead to sub-optimal and possibly even conflicting outcomes regarding participation, mitigation, adaptation, finance, application of best practices, safeugards, and measurement, reporting and verification (MRV)."
The TFG report lists a range of specific functions to be included under a REDD+ mechanism operating under UNFCCC. These include (see report for additional details):
- Facilitate matching of needs and support for national REDD+ programs
- Facilitate matching of needs and support for subnational REDD+ programs approved by national governments.
- Receive, review, and compile developing country submissions on various issues such as National REDD+ plans and REDD+ related NAMAs
- Receive, review and compile developed country submissions on the provision of REDD+ finance, support and other information.
- Provide guidance on the adequacy of submissions and recommend methodologies for improving country submissions in (3) and (4) above.
- Determine consistent and logical reference level guidance to ensure fairness and maintenance of global REDD+ additionality.
- Recommend national REDD+ reference levels and subnational reference levels if apporpriate, or a range of levels, to COP for review and a decision
- Establish appropriate benchmarks for phased REDD+ programs and phased submission by Parties to the UNFCCC REDD+ Mechanism
- Facilitate the application and review of safeguards to support REDD+ actions at the national, subnational and project levels.
- Encourage submissions of national and subnational information on REDD+ activity data or emissions factors to the IPCC Emissions Factor Database (EFDB).
- Provide coordination on REDD+ issues with COP, COP/MOP, AWG-LCA, AWG KP, SBSTA, SBI and IPCC and other processes, under the guidance of COP
- Facilitate coordination and sharing of information and resources with bodies outside the UNFCCC process
- [Contingent on other UNFCCC decisions] Recommend posting of REDD+ related NAMAs and financial needs with emergent registry and in concert with other mechanisms or bodies
- [Contingent on other UNFCCC decisions] Recommend posting of financial and other support for REDD+ with the emergent registry.
- Recommend plans to validate and verify REDD+ emissions reductions
Part of the problem with the above list, however, is that many of these functions could in theory be performed by an entity such as the REDD+ Partnership. Here, proponents may need to distinguish among those functions which could be performed by a mechanism operating under UNFCCC, those which could best be performed under such a mechanism and those which can only be performed effectively by such a mechanism. Such an analysis remains pending for the time being.
The above mentioned functional analysis needs to be embedded within a consideration of the 'dangerous disagregation' factor; those areas where disaggregation poses a particular threat are likely to be areas where functions can best be performed under UNFCCC. This kind of analysis may be helpful not only for making an urgent case for such a mechanism but also for determining which functions might usefully remain outside of such a mechanism.
But the most important argument of all, it would seem, relates to REDD+'s trail-blazing nature within the UNFCCC. As the TFG report notes, "If the largest, most immediate source of global emissions reductions...cannot be organized under the guidance of the COP, then what is the UNFCCC doing?"